Taking a holistic approach to community engagement and impact
At Gem Diamonds, we are committed to creating meaningful, and lasting change. We want to leave a positive legacy in the countries in which we operate through contributions to local economies, maximising local employment and procurement, as well as developing sustainable CSI projects. We take an integrated approach on how we achieve this, understanding how inextricably linked the issues of sustainability, society and the environment are.
While our CSI activities have focused on project affected communities (PACs) at our operating mine in Lesotho, where the need is the greatest, we also acknowledge that we are a part of a global community striving to address larger issues. To this point, we have integrated the UN SDGs into our decision-making process, with six of the 17 SDGs identified as key to our communities and organizational objectives.
COVID-19 has caused severe health and economic devastation in communities across the globe and Lesotho was no different. In 2020, as the crisis first unfolded and numerous travel and other restrictions were imposed, we shifted our focus to supporting our PACs and the Lesotho nation at large. CSI funds were allocated towards the most urgent of needs, including food aid and PPE provision, as well as training health care workers and the donation of a mobile testing lab.
In 2021, we refocused on our longer-term CSI goals as the impact of Covid on our operations stabilised. However, before we could fully return to our CSI agenda, localised flooding in the Mokhotlong district impacted the accessibility of seven of the nine villages located downstream from the mine. Roads were washed away and villages became inaccessible. We responded swiftly to support and assist our communities affected by the floods, and immediately started work to re-establish damaged infrastructure (including footbridges, access roads, water provision infrastructure and schools). We are well versed at assisting our PACs during extreme weather events, and pride ourselves on our resilience to these events both operationally and in assisting our communities. Our climate change-related studies which confirm the probability of increasing occurrence of extreme weather events that are likely to affect local communities, are used to inform appropriate community response plans and disaster management procedures.
We recognise the importance of the well-established cultures and social structures in the local communities surrounding our operations. We therefore take a holistic approach to community engagement, informed by specific social and environmental impact assessments (SEIAs) and community need analyses. The SEIAs and community needs analysis are informed by extensive public participation, host country legislation and international best practice guidelines such as the World Bank Equator Principles and the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Performance.
Our community needs analysis, delayed in 2020 due to COVID-19 related lockdowns, was re-commissioned during 2021. The externally facilitated needs analysis, not only reviewed the existing CSI projects, but also engaged directly with PACs to understand their immediate needs. This approach to understanding and prioritising the needs of our PACs directly informs our five-year CSI strategy, which incorporates our UN SDG priorities to maximise impact.
The bisecting crisis of climate change and COVID-19, with numerous knock-on effects on economic growth and social cohesion, are expected to adversely impact our communities. We are committed to developing sustainable, informed interventions that empower our host communities and create real impact in their lives, long after our mine is closed.